Although vegan and vegetarian foods can be highly beneficial towards creating a more sustainable environment, they can also negatively impact society and the planet, both directly and indirectly. Here are four surprising foods, commonly incorporated into a vegan diet, that can be harmful.
The largest avocado markets include Canada, the U.S., and Europe—countries where the fruit isn’t grown. The sudden rise in popularity for avocados has caused a greater demand for them, resulting in a larger number of imports. According to Vice, Tom Cumberlege, Associate Director of corporate carbon measuring company Carbon Trust, argues that "twice the amount of water, fertilizer and pesticide” is required to grow avocados, compared to oranges. Additionally, the “resources used for packaging materials and the energy used in processing, transporting and keeping them cool” can be detrimental towards the environment.
In places such as Mexico, “forests are being thinned” in order to create more space for avocado plantations, according to The Independent. The unprecedented demand for avocados has also resulted in an increase in price to the point where there are even reports of Mexican drug cartels controlling lucrative exports, bringing ethics into the question of avocado consumption.
Almonds, especially in plant-based milks, are gaining popularity. Over the past few years, an increase in demand for the nut has caused an increase in its production. Growing a single almond uses a whole gallon of water. As a result, California, which produces around 80% of the world’s almonds, has caused water conservationists to blame recent droughts on almond plantations.
The increase in Quinoa sales have adversely affected the Bolivian and Peruvian farmers that rely on quinoa as a staple in their own diets. The increase in price for this product has made it more unaffordable for people who have eaten quinoa as part of their culture for many years.
Furthermore, quinoa requires to be grown in high altitudes and relies on natural manure produced by llamas. As a result, to grow more of this product, farmers have had to expand their land, causing llamas to be displaced. This leads to other significant issues, as llamas provide natural fertilizer and prevent soil erosion. As temperatures have become warmer, more bugs and insects are moving towards higher altitudes. Thus, farmers have had to use more insecticides and agrochemicals, which are harmful to said insects and directly to the environment.
Soy is used to produce foods such as tofu and soy milk, which are increasing in popularity and demand, especially in the growing vegan community. High demand soybeans, which are grown mostly in South America, pose a threat to its ecosystems. According to Global Citizen, almost four hectares of forest land are destroyed every year. Victims include the Amazon, the Gran Chaco, and the Atlantic Forests.